Deciding Where to Go > Choosing the Right Law School

Please help make law school decision

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Hey everyone, thank you for taking the time to help.

I am from Southern California and I want to work for the District Attorney's office as a deputy DA out of law school. I need help picking the right law school.

There is two schools I got into; Southwestern (in Los Angeles ,unranked and offering no money) and Syracuse (in New York, ranked 96 and giving my 8k). I am waitlisted at UC Hastings and Chapman Law (in the OC). I sent a LOCI to Chapman but not to Hastings because they ask you don't contact admissions. I have been in communication with Chapman and they definitely know of my interest to attend so it's possible I can be admitted.

Given my options, what is my best choice?

Maintain FL 350:
Which law school you choose to attend is a highly personal choice, and I don't know enough about your situation to offer really specific advice. That said, if you want to be a DA in southern California there are some general rules which apply.

First, if you want to live and work in southern California I would definitely advise going to a local school. If you attend Syracuse or Hastings it's going to be difficult to obtain internships at the local DA's office, which is crucial to getting hired. Those internships are actually quite competitive, and local talent will have a huge advantage.

If you simply show up after law school and start sending out resumes to the local DAs without any local experience or personal connections, your chances of getting hired are probably close to zero. It's not uncommon to have 150 people applying for each position, and they've got to whittle that down to a manageable number somehow. Most if not all of the local law schools will have some kind of connection to the DA and can help you land an internship. Once you're there you can do a great job, impress the hell out of everyone, and increase your chances of eventually getting hired.

I went to law school in southern California and worked at a government law office. In my experience, personal connections can easily trump grades or pedigree. I was fortunate to score a great, very competitive internship during law school because I had the chance to meet one of the managing attorneys at local government office. I couldn't have done that if I'd been in Seattle or New York. If you look at the profiles of the local DA offices in southern California you'll see that the vast majority of prosecutors went to schools like Loyola, Southwestern, Pepperdine, La Verne and Western State. Very few went to out of state (or even of the area) schools.

Lastly, a word about the current state of the DA's offices. As you probably know California is in terrible financial shape and this has resulted in government agencies having their budgets slashed. Hiring at most DA, public defender, city attorney, etc. offices is at either a standstill or a trickle. many offices have shrunk because they've had to lay people off or because they can't replace attrition due to retirement. Unfortunately, I don't think that's going to change anytime soon. I know people who are licensed attorneys and are working at the DA as volunteers hoping for a job to open up. The competition for those few coveted positions is heavy, to say the least.

My point is only go to law school if you would be content doing something other than prosecuting, because there is an excellent chance that you won't get hired straight out of law school. I'm not trying to dash your dreams, I'm just pointing out a fact of which you may not be aware.

Good luck with whatever you decide! 

First and foremost realize that any anonymous internet poster myself included should not be a major influence in your law school decision. There is no licensing exam to post on this board and for all you know myself or Maintain FL could be bums in a public library bottom line take anything you read on this board or others with a major grain of salt when making this life altering decision

With that said Maintain offers solid advice, which I am going to elaborate on it and when choosing a law school I think you should consider the following factors in this order (1) Location (2) Cost (3) Personal Feeling abut the school (4) LASTLY not First consider U.S. News rankings and I will also explain the reality of legal education. All of these factors are analyzed in more detail below.

1) Location
This is by far the most important factor especially when considering a school in Syracuse, New York v. Los Angeles, California or San Francisco. Remember at a bare minimum you will spend three years of your life in the City you attend law school and law school does not exist in a vacuum. Syracuse is a small town in upstate New York that has nothing to offer except a University and it is freezing in the winter. I imagine you are from California based on your other law school selections and have probably never dealt with real weather.

On top of that you will be going away from Family and Friends. Now you may like the small college town atmosphere opposed to L.A., but that is really something to consider when choosing your law school because odds are wherever you attend is where you will spend the rest of your life. Of course there are exceptions, but if you go to law school in New York you will probably end up taking the New York Bar make friends in NY, get into a relationship in NY, have an apartment etc and it will be difficult to leave. When I was in law school many people thought they would end up moving back, but it just doesn't happen law school occurs during the prime of your life essentially and three years is a long time so just really make sure you are comfortable with the location.

Not only that if you attend law school in Syracuse, New York you will not be able to do an internship with the L.A. D.A's office during law school simply due to location. At Syracuse you could probably intern with whatever County D.A's are in upstate New York and I am sure Syracuse has connections in New York for employment, but not in California. Vice Versa for Southwestern.

2. Cost
Do not be sucked in by these scholarships to easily first off they are generally not renewable and you need to maintain a 3.0 generally, which requires you to be in the top 35% of the class in law school. No offense to you, but everyone in law school is smart, hard working, motivated and 100% of people think there is no way they will not be in the top 35% of the class, but you don't need to be a math major to see there is a 65% chance you will not be in the top 35% and you will lose the scholarship for years two and three. Syracuse is also the most expensive of the schools you mentioned at 45k a year although the others are not much cheaper Chapman at 42k per year and cost of living may be less in Syracuse, but don't move across the country for an 8k scholarship that is not guaranteed. It can be a factor, but 8k for law school tuition is just a drop in the bucket.

3. Personal Feelings about the school
This is going to be a three year, 100k investment, that will change your life I highly encourage you to visit all the schools you are interested in attending and see how you personally feel about the school. I know as a OL and having competed in mock trial competitions with other law schools that each school has a culture to it and I know some I liked others I didn't, but I am not you. You may very well have liked what I hated and hated what I liked.

For example I do not like Hastings it is in the Tenderloin the worst part of San Francisco, has giant class sizes, and it just gives me a bad vibe. Conversely I loved the Chapman Campus the campus was beautiful, it had an undergrad, and I liked the smaller town of Orange. However, you may love the bigger city and large class sizes and hate Chapman, but the only way for you to know if a law school is a good fit for you is to visit the school and make the determination yourself.

4) U.S. News Rankings
I see you mentioned the rankings in your post  and you are making the common mistake that many 0L's myself included make by basing a life altering decision on a magazine. It is very important to realize that U.S. News is a for-profit, unregulated, magazine offering an opinion. Furthermore, their opinion changes from year to year for no real reason.

Furthermore  U.S. News ranks more than law schools New Mexico is the best place to live . Are you going to move there because U.S. News says so? I imagine not surely there is something good about New Mexico, but I would not alter my life because U.S. News says New Mexico is a great place to live. Similarly I would recommend not making the life altering decision on where to attend law school based on this magazine.

If you were choosing Harvard over Southwestern it might play a role, but nobody will be impressed that Syracuse is the 96th best school and rankings are irrelevant for schools of this caliber.

Reality of Legal Education
The realty is what you learn at an ABA school is pretty much identical. Your first year will consist of torts, civil procedure, property, contracts, and criminal law. In these courses you will read Supreme Court cases and they do write separate opinions for different schools. You will read Palsgraff in Torts for proximate cause, Pennoyer v. Neff in civ pro to learn about notice etc .

You might have a few electives here and there, but the majority of your legal education will be identical no matter where you go. As for your desire to be a prosecutor I suppose you would want to attend a school that has a large mock trial competition team as that can help, but still only minimally in your goal to become a prosecutor.

On top of that you can't really know what you want to do until you start law school. I honestly thought IP was what I wanted when I started, but after the one course I dropped it and really liked trial advocacy and became a City Attorney. You may hate criminal law and end up loving IP so just keep your options open in law school.

Bottom line is at any ABA school you will learn the same thing.

Do not let me or any other anonymous internet poster make the life altering decision of what law school to attend. It will be three years of your life, 100K of your money, and your legal career so listen to yourself when making the decision .Good luck!

Thanks for your responses. I really appreciate your input.

As of right now I am hoping to get into Chapman. I like small classrooms in private schools. I just completed my masters in one and it was a great experience.

Did you end up attending Chapman or Hastings? If so how is it going?


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